Raising children on a vegetarian diet is nothing new and is completely safe, but on the whole, our Western culture remains somewhat skeptical about it. If you are just beginning to move your family into a vegetarian diet, you may find some resistance from your extended family and friends. You can gently remind them that all children need the same vitamins and nutrition, and as long as you provide that for them, their diet is up to you.There are many young children who decide on vegetarianism themselves while the rest of their family are still omnivores. Many of the points I covered in my post on vegetarian teenagers will apply to that situation. But often it is the choice of the parents to make the dietary change and the children, by necessity, must follow along.
If that is the case in your household here are a number of things to keep in mind when making the adjustment in diet.
1. Removing meat from your child's diet may take some time. Unless your child chose this path for herself, she won't have the same motivation that you have. Start by easing your children into this slowly by offering more meatless meals of things they enjoy, like pizza, but removing the pepperoni. Start by converting some of their favourite meals to vegetarian to ease them into it. Remember that children often dislike foods based on texture, so tofu may be a tough sell. Encourage them to eat other proteins such as legumes.
2. Be careful not to rely too much on smothering everything in cheese. In Scotland, the school lunch programme now provides a daily vegetarian option, but there must be a minimum of three cheese free meals per week. Cheese is great in moderation, and most children love it, but the amount of saturated fat and sodium involved can become a problem.
3. Remember that an adult diet is not always suitable for a child. Children need a lot of food energy for their growing bodies so low fat foods are not always suitable. It is recommended that they should be drinking whole milk until the age of two and only partly skimmed milk until the age of five. A lot of high fibre foods are difficult for children to digest so they should be served in moderation.
4. Children have small stomachs so smaller, more frequent eating times are preferable. If you are weaning them off meat, you could try having meat free meals and snacks until dinner time and then start cutting down the number of times a week you serve meat at dinner.
5. The vital requirements for a child's healthy development are calcium, iron, zinc, protein and vitamins B12 and D. If you serve a balanced diet to your child, they should be able to obtain the necessary levels for health. Legumes, green leafy vegetables, eggs and dairy products are all important elements to their diet. Vegan children will likely need a supplement for vitamin B12 as it is normally supplied through animal products. The bodies requires vitamin D to absorb calcium which can be obtained from sunlight as well as through diet.
6. Be open with your children about your vegetarian choice, but don't lecture them. It won't work. And don't scare them with animal horror stories. Be patient and consistent with them and continue to offer a wide variety of vegetarian options for them to try.
7. If you have a picky eater, meal time is probably already a bit of a trial for you. Let your child choose a vegetarian dinner and help to cook it. Remember that children like what is familiar to them, and it may take four or five times before they try a vegetable that is offered.
A good way to keep both kids and parents happy is to do a two step recipe. You can cook the same sauce, and then once the sauce is on the kids meal, you can add spices or vegetables they don't like to the rest and put it on your own meal. This recipe doesn't actually have any vegetables in it, but I would add something like steamed broccoli or carrots right in with the noodles and sauce. I left the sugar out and didn't miss it. The amount of curry paste you use is really up to you, depending on how hot you like your noodles.
Peanut Butter Noodles/Spicy Thai Noodles
Buckwheat soba noodles for 4
1/3 cup peanut butter
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp tahini
2 tsp mirin or juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 lb tofu
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp (or to taste) green or red curry paste
1 tbsp cilantro, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp peanuts, coarsely chopped
1. Boil soba noodles until tender. Drain and rinse under cool water and let sit in a colander. Set aside.
2. In a bowl, stir together peanut butter, 2 tbsp of soy sauce, tahini, mirin and sugar. Set aside.
3. Heat sesame oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Sesame oil has a low burn temperature so don't turn the heat up too high. Add ginger and cook until it is golden, 3 or 4 minutes. Break tofu up into crumbs and saute until it is heated through. Add remaining soy sauce.
4. Mix the sauce into the noodles until it is uniformly covered. Top with half of the tofu. Serve the children their portion. Add curry paste to remaining noodles and top with tofu, cilantro and peanuts.
Adapted from Make Me Something Good to Eat by Tamra Davis
Challenge of the week: Allow your child to choose any vegetarian meal they want for dinner, then get them to help you make it.
Sources: Savvy Vegetarian, BBC Food, Vegetarian Society, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Kidshealth, USDA National Agricultural Library
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